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NRCS Texas Hispanic Leaders Honored

By Bertha T. Venegas, State Outreach Specialist

The National Organization of Professional Hispanic Natural Resources Conservation Service Employees (NOPHNRCSE) honored its leaders at their Annual training on August 23-25, 2019 in Spokane, Washington.

The “Strive for the Summit” Joint Employee Association Training was in conjunction with the Asian Pacific Islander Organization (APIO), the American Indian Alaskan Native Association, the National Organization of Professional Women in Natural Resources Conservation Service Employees (WiN), and Equality USDA.

Honorees during this year’s training included three employees from Texas who were recognized for their achievements during the Awards Banquet on August 23, 2019.

Flavio Garza Jr. was honored with the Visionary Award.   The Visionary Award recognizes the accomplishments of forward-looking and innovative men and women who are active members in the Hispanic community. The award especially recognizes their participation in and support of NOPHNRCSE in addition to their contributions to their profession and Hispanic community. This award is given in tribute to pioneers of the organization whose hard work and vision resulted in the creation of the organization. Only one award is presented each year. Flavio is a charter member of NOPHNRCSE who started his career as a student trainee while earning his Bachelor of Science degree from Texas A & I University (now Texas A & M University -Kingsville).  He served two terms as the South-Central Regional Representative on the Board of Directors of NOPHNRCSE and numerous committees including the Site Selection Ad-Hoc Committee, and as chairman of the Scholarship and Endowment Committee.  Flavio is currently the Resource Team Leader (RTL) for the Laredo Resource Team covering Webb, Duval, LaSalle, McMullen, Dimmit and Zavala counties along the Texas-Mexico border encompassing a predominantly Hispanic population.  He serves as instructor for the NEDC-Working with Hispanic Producers training course and had served as Hispanic Emphasis Program Manager (HEPM) for Texas.  As RTL he also works with cities, counties and nonprofits in his community to address urban conservation needs and is involved in three different projects working with Laredo Community College, the City of Laredo, the Rio Grande International Study Center and the Webb Soil and Water Conservation District to establish pollinator gardens and habitat through urban conservation NRCS agreements.  Flavio is a rancher in Zapata County and has a cattle operation.  He was awarded Conservation Rancher of the Year for Zapata county.  He serves on the Ag Advisory committee for the Webb County Appraisal District, and the Leadership Advisory Board for the Webb and Zapata Counties Texas Agrilife Extension Service.

Maria Hrebik was honored with the Leadership Award.  The Leadership Award recognizes the accomplishments of proactive and motivated men and women who are active members in the Hispanic community. The award especially recognizes their participation in and support of NOPHNRCSE in addition to their contributions in their profession and Hispanic communities. This award is given in tribute to the forerunners and pacesetters of the organization whose dedication and leadership resulted in the creation of the organization. Only one award is presented each year. Maria has been a member of NOPHNRCSE for 15 years and served in numerous roles on committees and assisting with the planning of national conferences.  She served a 2-year term as the South-Central regional representative supporting, assisting, motivating and mentoring Hispanic NRCS employees in the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. Maria started her NRCS career as a field engineer in her hometown of El Paso.  She worked as a Design Engineer and was responsible for the design, rehabilitation, and repair of numerous watershed dams statewide, as well as, provided technical assistance and expertise on complex engineering designs to other engineers and employees throughout the state.  She now holds a position at the Blackland Research & Extension Center where her work consists primarily on water quality modeling projects in the state and national level.  Her work consists of modeling large scale watersheds nationwide focusing on water quality, nutrients and soil losses for the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP). She has worked in national assessments and high emphasizes watershed projects such as the Western Lake Erie Basin and the Chesapeake Bay Region.  She currently serves as the Federal Women's Program Manager for Texas and on the civil rights committee.  She has been able to secure an annual budget for the TX FWP in which she utilizes to provide training to employees and financial scholarship opportunities for career development and professional enrichment to TX NRCS employees. In 2015 she, along with her colleagues, had the honor of traveling to Washington D.C. to receiving the Abraham Lincoln Honor Award, the most prestigious award presented by the Department of Agriculture. This award recognizes noteworthy accomplishments that significantly contribute to the advancement of USDA’s strategic goals, mission objectives, and overall management excellence; her recognition was in the area of Protecting Natural Resources. 

Serafin Aguirre was honored with the Award of Excellence in Hispanic Community Outreach.

This award is designed to recognize individuals who, over a period of time, have contributed substantially and creatively to Hispanic communities. The recipient should exemplify excellence in a particular discipline and, possibly, in multi-discipline efforts that promote excellence and creativity. The recipient also should demonstrate leadership and involvement in NOPHNRCSE.  Serafin has been a member of NOPHNRCSE during his 14 years with NRCS.  He has volunteered to assist in numerous capacities during the national conferences and in numerous committees.  He has been instrumental in submitting entries for the Farmer of the Year and had the winning farmer for the 2018 National NOPHNRCSE Conference.  Serafin is the District Conservationist in Maverick County.  He serves a predominantly Hispanic community and also has a federally recognized tribe in his work area, the Traditional Kickapoo Tribe of Texas.  He has facilitated outreach activities to reach out to the Hispanic community and is bilingual to assist the needs of those with limited English.  He has attended the Intertribal Agriculture Council Annual Conference with representatives of the Kickapoo Nation and has provided both technical and financial support for their conservation program on their tribal lands. Serafin received a superior performance award in fiscal year 2018 for outstanding conservation planning and implementation in Maverick County and serving the Maverick County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Serafin in cooperation with the FFA program and the Maverick Soil and Water Conservation District sponsor the annual cowboy breakfast to reach out to the public and communicate the conservation opportunities in Maverick County.  Representatives from health and human service agencies, medical professions, and local community organizations provided free health screenings, information handouts, and other healthy and fun activities for the over 3,400 in attendance.  Serafin and members of the Maverick Soil and Water Conservation District set up an educational booth to explain information about Farm Bill Programs, technical assistance, financial aid, and USDA Strikeforce Initiative. 

In the spirit and mission of this organization Serafin has committed his actions to assist NRCS in the delivery of program benefits and services to the Hispanic rural community by strengthening NRCS outreach efforts with the Hispanic and Native American communities in order to assist NRCS in the technology transfer of information to both said communities.  As of the latest census, Maverick County has About 95% Hispanic or Latino of any race population. Based on per capita income, Maverick County is one of the poorest counties in the United States.

Serafin is a Member of Knights of Columbus and past manager of the Knights of Columbus Bingo program that raised scholarship funds for local high school students to attend college or trade school.

You can learn more about NOPHNRCSE by visiting their website at www.nophnrcse.org